Organizations are rapidly deploying highly distributed, modern application environments to increase agility and their ability to better serve their customers. This shift is being driven by digital transformation initiatives that affect people processes and technology. In fact, ESG's "2022 Technology Spending Intentions Survey" indicates that more than nine out of 10 organizations (91%) are either beginning, are in process or have mature digital transformation initiatives.
Indeed, organizations are creating distributed cloud environments by deploying modern applications across private data centers, multiple public cloud services -- IaaS and SaaS -- and edge locations. As a result, the public internet is quickly becoming the corporate network, with organizations using software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) and broadband connections to these distributed environments.
At the same time, network teams must contend with hybrid work models that require secure connectivity from home or other remote locations. Not only do these connections need to be secure, but they also need to be performant and ensure a consistent positive experience, regardless of where employees choose to work on any given day.
This highly distributed and dynamic environment creates several challenges for the network.
Complexity affects ability to deliver positive experiences
While these highly distributed environments are more nimble and responsive, they are also more complex. According to Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) research, more than half of respondents (54%) said they believe the network environment has become either more or significantly more complex than two years ago.
It's not just the distributed nature that causes network complexity. Network management products have also been segmented by their role in the organization and even by technology. These include the following segments.
Network teams and technology have been segmented based on their function. Data center networks and teams are often siloed from campus, branch, cloud and WAN teams. Traditionally, these segments might have disparate management tools, even from the same vendor.
Often, an organization doesn't want to be locked into a specific technology vendor, instead favoring the best approach for each network domain. However, this requires network operations teams to learn additional management tools and manually correlate information when troubleshooting. It is also difficult to find network operations teams with skills across multiple different vendors.
Dynamic modern application environments
Change is inevitable for a network environment, and the trend that virtualization started is only growing with microservices-based applications. Network services now need to be turned up and down in a matter of seconds, not hours, days or weeks.
Supporting home workers
At the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit, network teams were responsible for managing connectivity to tens or hundreds -- maybe thousands for big organizations -- of remote sites. However, with hybrid work models becoming commonplace, these network teams now must ensure secure connectivity to hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of remote workers. They often used legacy VPN services that require backhauling all traffic through the data center, which affects performance.
Managing multiple different management tools affects operational efficiency, as it requires operators to use swivel chair management -- turning to view multiple screens -- and manually correlate events. This results in limited visibility to the entire end-to-end network.
Previously, network management technology was deployed on premises, which may still be a requirement for certain sectors. On-premises network management could affect the ability to use AI and machine learning (ML) tools and limit the amount of data stored for historical analysis.
As organizations shift to the cloud, additional complexity is added as they must build expertise in and learn how to manage cloud networking management services for each cloud vendor.
Overall, these factors pose substantial challenges for network operations teams working to not only keep the existing network environments running, but seamlessly scale the network to accommodate new corporate sites, public cloud services or remote employees -- all while ensuring positive experiences and secure connectivity.
Unified networking gains traction
Despite the challenges resulting from traditional or legacy designs, the future does look bright. Network technology vendors have clearly witnessed these same challenges with their customers and are working to overcome them. Many are working to provide unified network management offerings. This concept resonates with organizations, as ESG research highlighted that virtually all organizations (99%) said they believe unified, end-to-end network management is either critical, very important or somewhat important. More than four-fifths (84%) of respondents said it is critical or very important.
Vendors are responding by unifying parts of the network, with the most common areas being unified wired and wireless for campus locations. ESG research validates this trend, with 40% of respondents citing they currently have unified wired and wireless, with another 48% planning to unify. For the branch office, vendors that have SD-WAN technology are going one step further and unifying wired, wireless and WAN to drive even more operational efficiencies. Some vendors are building out offerings to extend to home workers and keep that under the same network management system as well.
Cloud networking -- or, more precisely, multi-cloud networking -- is also seeing a surge of activity, with several newly emerging companies offering the ability to abstract the complexity of managing multiple public clouds with a single unified management console.
Another important advancement for achieving unified, end-to-end management is the increased use of cloud-based network management services. Not to be confused with the above cloud or multi-cloud networking management, cloud-based network management is the concept of deploying the management for on-premises -- or even cloud -- network management services in a public or private cloud environment. By centralizing the network management in the public cloud, vendors can deliver several benefits, including the following:
- easier access for remote employees;
- ability to consolidate anonymized data and create a repository for AI and ML technologies;
- virtually unlimited data storage for historical analysis;
- single window to provide end-to-end visibility;
- single location to integrate security or share network information; and
- use of AI and ML to enhance operational efficiency and drive automation.
Steps to take moving forward
Organizations with distributed environments are now more reliant on the network to deliver positive experiences and business agility. Network teams must be able to turn up new network connections and ensure they are secure and performant.
These requirements are driving the need for unified, end-to-end management that enables network teams to have complete visibility into the environment and the ability to manage it more efficiently. The end-to-end unification will also result in faster troubleshooting times, increased availability, agility and enhanced experiences.
Now is the time to have a conversation with your internal network team and your preferred network vendor or MSP to learn about what technologies they have already unified and what their timeline is to deliver a unified, end-to-end network management for your environment. Understanding their roadmap and how you can migrate will enable your organization to continue to build out highly distributed environments, with greater visibility, control and agility.
ESG is a division of TechTarget.